[Alternate titles: The Substance of My Faith; To Them I Add Mine]
As others have said many times before, academic reasons for believing in the Book of Mormon are not the main propellers of our faith. They are not why we strive to be better people or serve others or go to church or pay tithing. They are not why we pray to our Heavenly Father, or why we exercise any faith at all. The reason we believe is, again, that great equalizer the Holy Ghost, and how it has touched our hearts and minds in such a way as to be undeniable. Our lives are evidence of that sacred contact.
All three witnesses of the gold plates of the Book of Mormon had, at one time or another, reasons to recant their testimony. Yet they did not. David Whitmer never even came back to the mainstream of the church, but he never denied the object of his witness. He had seen the plates, and seen an angel. He kept that testimony until the day he died.
There are many ways we know, many reasons to believe.
My great great grandmother believed. She was from Sweden, living there at just the time the missionaries made their way into Scandinavia. They had stopped attending their protestant church because of hypocrisy in the clergy; a friend suggested they go listen to the Mormons who were there preaching, and at first my great great grandmother declined because she had heard so many awful things about them. But in the end she gave them a chance, and according to my great grandmother, her daughter, “she said that from that very first sermon, she knew that she had come to the right place. She had heard the truth, and after that, of course, she didn’t have to find any more churches because the missionaries taught her the gospel.” Soon after that, “they cut a hole in one foot thick ice in the river, and were baptized in that icy water. Then they walked a quarter of a mile to their house to change clothes afterwards. They didn’t catch cold or freeze and that was a miracle in itself.” But as the influence of the Spirit grew in that area, so did the influence of the Adversary. With the arrival of missionaries came also the arrival of anti-Mormon literature, and so began the persecution. But the Lord had a plan. “One night my mother had a dream,” my great grandmother Ranghilde Safsten said to my own mother. “An angel came to her in the dream and said, “Don’t delay moving to America. Go right now.” From that time, they just sold everything and went, all of them, Grandpa, Grandmother, Erick and Cemoria, Mama and Dad and us five children and Emil and Ida and Enes.”
I believe because they believed. I believe because of the miracles that took place in their lives, because the Spirit spoke to them the way it speaks to me now. Because this experience was not unique—my great great grandfather survived in the winter trek of the Willie Handcart Company when he was only two years old. His parents, his family made the same kind of choices, received the same kinds of revelation, felt the exact same Spirit as my Swedish ancestors did, and they sacrificed everything for it.
All these people, these miracles, these pioneers, mirrored over nearly 200 years—they are why I believe.
I believe because of the testimonies of millions, the miracles in billions, the divinely inspired life philosophy that produces the greatest peace and greatest understanding and greatest love for all beings the world has seen or ever will see.
I believe because of the stability of our lives, how consistently rewarding this belief system is, how miraculously abundant it is, the morality it lives and thrives by and that, if followed, will make a near perfect society driven by love, founded in peace, followed in joy.
I believe because the inspiration and revelation I receive in the temple every single time I go.
I believe because I see and understand the happiness of the family life we teach and promote.
I believe because of the miracles in my daily life, and the testimony of others who have felt and seen similar things. So many prayers have been answered as I have turned to external sources like scriptures that they cannot be coincidence. Wherever you see a pattern playing out, as I have, there is a designer.
I believe because I see the great movement of the church, the momentum that has been building up with each successive generation since 1805, the prophecies of ancient prophets and modern prophets being fulfilled before our eyes,
I believe because of the stunning existence of the Book of Mormon, a book entirely unique in this world’s history, with no peer to match it, still unable to be proven wrong, still without a plausible origin story other than the one Joseph Smith himself gave.
I believe because I have felt the shocking reality that there is so much more going on than we as mortal, fallible, physically limited beings can perceive if we don’t care to pay attention or look carefully, that will be missed with a blink of an eye unless we pray with sincerity and pause and meditate and listen and do as the Spirit directs.
I believe because I have knowledge of the great Plan. It gives reason to our lives, purpose that pulls us forward, an actual structure to this existence that makes so much sense. The Plan is comprised of so much pulchritude that nothing in all the history of civilization has or ever will compare in how complete it is, how all-encompassing it is, this patchwork theodicy that offers answers at every twist and turn, but only if we care to actually learn it and live by it and live with it.
I believe because of the miracle of my life, my rescue from darkness and despair, the love of Christ penetrating that darkness and pulling me out and into the light. I know this church is true because without it, I would be a slave. A slave to addiction, a slave to my body’s desires and appetites. Without the grand goals of the gospel, I would have little reason to fight, to hold myself to a higher standard, to live true freedom.
But, of course, all that can be dismissed if there is no willingness to believe, no faith, no desire to live as God commands. All knowledge is dormant without faith. Yet this faith will be dismissed, at least by some. As coincidence or brainwashing or just some psychological effect. Just the brain convincing itself of something it wants to believe, whispering lies in its own ear, whatever it really wants to hear.
Just a trick, those lies, just a great neurological game, all in sinister effort to persuade itself that it needs to grow, to be developed, to go through hard things and exercise control over the body instead of letting it do what it wishes and be washed away in the winds of its desire. The brain, that cunning little con man, apparently wants hard work to be done, wants to be denied a steady stream of pleasurable chemicals. That’s how the brain works, apparently. Just a series of coincidence and psychological effects adding up to a totally illusory life. That’s what they’ll tell us.
And so why isn’t the scientific branch of academia, with all its omniscience and intellectual authority, with all its power and reach and prominence—why isn’t it studying this great psychological effect? Why hasn’t it been able to explain this “one weird trick” that has brought happiness and peace and unbelievable amounts of inspiration and ideas to so many people? What is it that makes the saints themselves so successful in their work and family life? Why hasn’t science figured out that secret, deconstructed it, obtained the valuable brain waves emanating from the skulls of the faithful, and offered whatever wisdom is distilled from that psychological secret to the masses? And why hasn’t any avenue of academia or scholarship determined the true origin of the Book of Mormon if not how Joseph Smith explained it?
We are told it takes courage to break away from our faith, that it is a crutch true men and women do not need. Perhaps it takes courage to leave the institution you have been brought up in all your life, to forge a new identity for oneself and live without commandments and structure. But I would argue that it takes far more courage for an investigator to make the decision to join this church than for a doubting member to leave it, and for a believer to stand up to the pressures and mockery and laughter of the world when their beliefs contradict with the latest lifestyle trends.
It is easier to live without rules, a life of whims and desires. That’s what we call the path of least resistance—let the wind and gravity take you wherever it may. On the other hand, it is much, much harder, and takes far more courage to willingly live your life according to new rules, to fight against the wind and stand up against gravitational forces. Rules you’ve never lived by before, and in obedience to a God you’ve never known before. All without artificial constraints, without anyone in particular holding you to those new rules or compelling you to keep them if you don’t want to. True courage is denying your own will, offering it upon the altar as sacrifice to our Heavenly Father, who will then use it to your benefit, if offered in faith.
Our religion is not a crutch. It is a ladder, a staircase, a mountain to be climbed. We are looked down upon because we have true courage; courage to deny ungodly parts of ourselves, to live on a higher plane, to have total control over our appetites.
So before you cast away the fruit of the tree of life and venture into the mists of darkness to join those in that great and spacious building, realize first that it is not an ascent, but a descent, and that the wine consumed among those raucous crowds will only deaden your senses, while the fruit of the tree of life does naught but enliven them and sharpen both the joy and pain of this life. That is courage.
I have tried the experiment of faith myself. That seed planted has become a tree of life of whose sacred fruit I have partaken. And now I offer it to you. Take the fruit, the seeds, plant them and try the experiment yourself. Whether you call the reason for it faith or the scientific method, I invite you to try the same experiment that I did. Test it for yourself. Verify it again and again. As many times as you need to. Let this be a rousing cry to your soul to wake up and take this gospel seriously, for it is the only thing that truly matters.